Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre
Published by Broadway Books, 2012. Paperback, 399 pages.
Double Cross tells the story of the Double Cross system used by the British during World War II. Under this system, either spies for Britain were asked to become double agents or those working for the Germans offered their services to the British for this purpose. During the early years of the war, the spies fed the Germans information of little importance or falsehoods to gain trust. As D-Day came closer, the agents played the role of deceiving the Germans into thinking the attack would take place elsewhere–a two-pronged invasion of Norway via Scotland and Pas de Calais via Southeastern England instead of Normandy. Known as Operation Fortitude, this deception was carried out not only by the spies’ lies but also via physical deceptions, including faked armies, airfields, training centers, and more. the deception was kept up even after Normandy was invaded under the claim that attack was a precursor to a larger invasion.
The book followed the lives of five key agents and their handlers. Dusan “Dusko” Popov was a Serbian national first recruited by his friend, Johnny Jebsen, to spy on the British for Abwehr. Popov then offered his services to Britain as a double agent. Roman Czerniawski was a Polish Army Officer who operated the Interallié intelligence network out of Paris for the Allies in the early part of the war. After he was captured by the Germans, he became a double agent. Once he was a free man, he turned triple agent by again assisting Britain. Lily Sergeyev was a Russian-born French citizen who served as a double agent who nearly manged to single-handedly destroy Operation Fortitude (and no, I’m not telling how). Juan Pujol Garcia was a Spaniard with a large imagination who created a false network of spies for the German’s with British assistance. Elvira de la Fuente Chadoir was a casino-loving Peruvian living in France who first offered her services to the British before being recruited by the Germans. Both desired to know the gossip she acquired at gaming tables and bars.
Intertwined with these individuals as the stories of the B1A Division of MI5 (Secret Services) which ran the entire operation. Thomas Argyll “Tar” Robertson was the mastermind of Double Cross. His team that helped the plan succeed included John Masterman led the “Twenty Committee” that managed the plan’s overall strategy; the committee itself held representatives from all military and intelligence agencies. John Marriot served as Robertson’s deputy. Guy Liddell led B Section, which included B1A. Case officers included Billy Luke, Ian Wilson, Christopher Harmer, Hugh Astor, Mary Sheer, and Tomás Harris. Gisela Ashley, an anti-Nazi German, served as the unit’s German expert. Of course, the stories of the double agent’s German handlers were also included, especially that of Johnny Jebsen who later turned into a double agent himself.
While I found the information in Double Cross interesting, it was a tedious read. Why? With so many names and alternate versions of names to remember (each spy had at least two code names), sometimes it was hard to keep everyone straight. Luckily, there was a list entitled “Agents and Their Handlers” in the front of the book and this helped somewhat. There were also long passages of quotes; while some worked well, other broke the flow of the narrative. At times I wondered if organizing the book by agent instead of chronology would flow better, but I realized that would not have worked. A reader may end up more confused as the intertwining stories are necessary to understand the whole picture.
Irrelevant to the review, but still worth mentioning, the cover art is noteworthy. The “tear” in the photo appears almost three-dimensional making the cover really “pop.” The above photo doesn’t do it justice so next time you are in a bookstore you might enjoy checking out what I mean.
Back in July, I posted an old review I did of the JFK Digital Library. Since then, the American Libraries Magazine had a feature on how the digitization project is going (Nov./Dec. issue). Feel free to check out the article in the magazine’s digital version as it greatly updates my older review. If you choose to follow the link, click the right arrow to access the table of contents then click in the article summary on the bottom of the page. Sorry I cannot link directly; the viewer won’t let me.
Lastly, don’t fear this blog has become all book reviews. I do plan to post more, but it won’t be a weekly thing. Like I mentioned last week, I hoped to include both reviews in one post but each review ended up being long enough for its own post. Next week, I plan to return to a dedicated library- or archive-themed post.